A Biographer's Notebook

A Biographer's Notebook

A Biographer's Notebook

A Biographer's Notebook

Excerpt

ONE SUNDAY, in the winter of 1937, I was invited to tea by PrinceGyka, then Counsellor of the Roumanian Legation in London, to meet KingCarol. The Prince had asked me, on behalf of his government, to write a biography of the King. At that time I was in danger of becoming a tame apologist for monarchy; also I was reluctant to write the biography of a living man, because it is ridiculous and false to assess the achievement of prince or commoner half-way through his performance. Also, KingCarol was not liked in England.

He was suffering from this unpopularity at the time when I went to meet him at PrinceGyka's house in London. Prince Gyka is more antiquarian than professional diplomat and, in the half-hour before his Sovereign arrived, he interested me in his country, not with a tangle of politics, but by making the surprising remark, "You realize that there were more Roumanians in Britain during the Roman occupation than there are to-day!" Then he told me of the cohort of Dacians, as the Roumanians were then called, stationed some fifteen miles from Carlisle. The Romans also transported three cohorts of British soldiers to Roumania about the same time. As they remained in exile for some twenty years, and as 2,500 men from the Border could not have wilted in chastity for so long, it is reasonable to suppose that the blood, as well as the customs, of the legionaries left its mark on the people.

I recall PrinceGyka standing before a beautiful old piece of furniture in his drawing-room and picking up a Roman coin that had been dug from the earth near Carlisle. "What is fascinating to me," he said, "is that the bagpipes, a particular form of . . .

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